Nico Uribe: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

Nicolas is a sophomore honors college student at Florida International University, majoring in Dietetics and Nutrition. As a Southern California native, now living in Miami, he has been exposed to the endless culture and diversity that South Florida offers every day through life and study. His strong and important Colombian roots have facilitated his growing passion for the city of Miami and he hopes to explore what more there is to learn.

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Historic Miami as Text

“Open Eyes Widen” By Nico Uribe of FIU at Historic Miami Walking Tour on September 7, 2022

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

I was born in Irvine, California, a city 51 years old, founded by Robert Irvine and the Irvine Company. It’s a planned city, every bend and intersection perfectly designed to give its citizens a mellow, smoothly functioning day-to-day. In school, we learned about our brief history, which included lessons about the Chumash native people and the Spanish missions, but as someone with eyes forever open to history, I can say it pretty much ends there. One year ago I left Irvine and moved to Miami, taking a leap into a life I knew would be louder, busier, and more culturally diverse, eager to uncover the history behind the city. What I learned and felt on this walking tour truly opened my eyes wider than I ever anticipated.

While it was founded in 1986, humans have inhabited it for at least 10 years prior. As we walked through the exhibits of the HistoryMiami Museum, I found myself lost in the thought of being one of the people who first conquered this land, touching the tools they used, and realizing that the conch shell sitting in my room could have once been instrumental in the construction of a village. The same feeling of awe came to me at the Miami Circle, a spiritual location of the Tequesta people, those who while true survivors, eventually succumbed to the power of European settlement.

Truly, Miami is and always has been a city of influence, and this first begins with the arrival of Spanish and English, who both had power over the land, fighting all along against the Seminole people, the “cimarrónes” who came from the north years prior but refused to give up their Floridian land. At Fort Dallas I encountered one of the oldest buildings in Miami, the preserved building once housed William English’s Slaves, later becoming a military fort during the Seminole Wars led to eradicate the native group. At this moment, we were invited to place our hands on the wall. I closed my wide eyes and imagined myself, as a slave who slept there, a soldier who fought there, or a native at the enemy’s post. At this moment I understood for the first time the history of Miami that I had never seen in movies, texts, or even documentaries. One characterized by the transfer and influence of different people.

Sadly, at the Dade County courthouse, I understood why I had never laid eyes on this History. There I found the statue of Major Francis Langhorne Dade which was accompanied by the plaque explaining all his honor and his death by an ambush of 200 “Indians and negroes” in the “Dade Massacre”. My eyes fall to the floor as I think about the way this man is honored today, after being the one leading hundreds of soldiers whose aim was to kill the natives of this land.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

Now the more recent history of Miami is one I was a little more familiar with. While I listened in full attentiveness to the history of Catholic churches and the Freedom Tower, its Muslim, and Spanish architecture, and the importance it held for the arrival of so many Cubans, all the while I couldn’t get my mind off of the history so present and so clear, and yet so difficult to get ahold of despite living in the same city. I’m definitely no longer in Irvine, and truly my open eyes widened.

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Overtown as Text

“When You Don’t Overlook Overtown” By Nico Uribe of FIU at Overtown Walking Tour on September 21, 2022

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

I am so lucky to have grown up the way I did. Throughout my life I have been lucky enough to create genuine bonds with people of all different cultures and backgrounds, going far enough as to really develop a thorough understanding and appreciation for so many. I always thought I knew and understood the difficulties and hardships that African Americans endure for the simple sake of their skin color and culture. Honestly, you grow up hearing it everywhere, and I always listened; to grow up African American is to confront deeply held racism, daily, and to live life with no head start. These messages have always been clear and I’ve lived my life conscious of it all.

Still, experiencing Overtown was a powerful confirmation of these notions. Truly, it is amazing that a place with so much culture could have been disrespected and forgotten as Overtown was. Seeing such places as the Lyric Theatre and imagining all the great performances, the laughter, the dancing, the love, all so that it remains as one of the only theatres still standing, as so many others just like it were torn down to be replaced by a modern shopping center. Incredible to think that churches, places of love and worship, were threatened to the point of pastors choosing between their home and the church so that the I-95 could pass over only one of the two. The abuse went so far as the government sent fines for things like old plumbing or old windows, aimed to accumulate the number of code infractions held by the oldest church in Overtown, Bethel church. This accumulation could eventually lead to the church’s end, giving opportunity for, what? More modern apartments? Still though, so sadly, this somehow did not come as a surprise.

Still, experiencing Overtown was a powerful confirmation of these notions. Truly, it is amazing that a place with so much culture could have been disrespected and forgotten as Overtown was. Seeing such places as the Lyric Theatre and imagining all the great performances, the laughter, the dancing, the love, all so that it remains as one of the only theatres still standing, as so many others just like it were torn down to be replaced by a modern shopping center. Incredible to think that churches, places of love and worship, were threatened to the point of pastors choosing between their home and the church so that the I-95 could pass over only one of the two. The abuse went so far as the government sent fines for things like old plumbing or old windows, aimed to accumulate the number of code infractions held by the oldest church in Overtown, Bethel church. This accumulation could eventually lead to the church’s end, giving opportunity for, what? More modern apartments? Still though, so sadly, this somehow did not come as a surprise.

I know how much of a terrible issue gentrification is, its consequences felt through the separation of families and the killing of culture. I know the lack of disregard that elites often have for minority groups and especially African Americans in the United States.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

All things considered, nothing prepared me for one specific moment on this day in Overtown. As we walked through Bethel Church and heard the words shared by Alberta Godfrey, A woman with the real experience of Overtown through its years, my feelings changed. Even though I said I’ve always considered myself open-minded and understanding, something just felt different. At one point she just looked at us all in the eyes and pointed, both with her words and her finger, and told us that we can not understand what hardship is endured as an African American in this country, that it is up to us to be the difference makers, to work towards justice, to seek it always.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

As much as I had heard this message spread all my life, I had never felt it touch me in this way. Never had someone so effectively injected me with such a strong feeling of responsibility, not necessarily for the past but for the future. For the sake of justice between people. I’ll always consider myself fortunate now to have listened to Alberta Godfrey’s words and to have seen the reality of Miami’s Overtown. It just goes to show that as much as one may believe in understanding another person’s experiences, one will truly never know.

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